Why raising awareness won’t keep travellers safe

4 minute read

Like many Chief Execs, I have a traffic light-coloured risk RAG matrix.  Every quarter, I review the RAG matrix with my Board, tweaking the probability x impact scores as circumstances change. It’s a comforting process. Our key risks are monitored, managed and mitigated. We can all sleep at night.

However, risk scores and RAG ratings do not change very much or very often. Red risks often stay red, and the green, well, green. The scores fluctuate, causing us to pause for thought, but our risks are entrenched. They aren’t going anywhere.

Despite our best efforts, slips, trips and falls remain the most common cause of harm to UK holidaymakers

I’ve noticed it in the customer incident patterns of travel companies too.

  • Slips, trips and falls are the most common cause of harm to UK citizens travelling abroad on holiday.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption plays a role in the deaths or serious injuries of UK travellers.

Our risk assessment matrices are helpful, but we should not kid ourselves that they are shifting risks from red to green. They are a snapshot of a moment in time.  An aggregation of many individual behaviours that combine to create something we need to worry about.

And merely giving people information, no matter how appealing the visuals or the soundtrack, in and of itself is not going to change behaviours in any significant way. It’s simply not enough.

Why warnings about the risk do not go far enough

We have all – including at Safer Tourism – become more imaginative at creating appealing and highly targeted messages.  Raising awareness about a risk should result in a change to the behaviour we are trying to encourage. By now, you would have thought there would no longer be any customer incidents because people should be fully aware of the risks.

  • Customers receive pre-trip information.
  • They can access “live” safety-related information on apps.
  • They may get a briefing at the start of their holiday.
  • Plus they receive safety risk advice when embarking upon experiences or activities during their trip.

Yet still, they get into trouble. And you might be forgiven for wondering, “Why did they do that? We gave them all the information they needed”

Why doesn’t information – telling people about a risk – and then giving them some training or tips to avoid or manage it – work??

Why do we all continue to do daft or even dangerous things when we should – and do – know better?

And even when we intend to behave in a certain way (we have the information we need and know how to avoid a risk), in the moment, another motivation takes over, and we end up acting differently.

The intention-behaviour gap

It’s called the intention-behaviour gap, and anyone who has ever tried to resist that snack and then succumbed will understand the concept.

We have to go deeper into the psychology of individual behaviour – into behavioural science.

Before you exclaim, “Ah yes, behavioural science – that’s nudging, isn’t it?” can I (politely) stop you?

We’ve all heard of “nudge” – changing what’s known as the “choice architecture” to encourage us to make better decisions:

  • If you put the fruit by the checkout and move the chocolate to the back of the store, I have to make more of an effort to find it and will make a healthier food choice.
  • If you make me opt out of an auto-enrolment pension scheme instead of opting in, my in-built laziness will help me save for my retirement.
  • Telling me that the other people who stayed in my hotel room only had their towels changed once a week makes me want to fit in, so I’ll go with the weekly change.
  • These tactics – which do work – make the behaviour choices you want me to make easy. They change my default by maximising social pressures on me to behave in a certain way.

Need to understand the behaviour motivation before designing the ‘nudge’

This is straightforward if you understand what was driving me in the first place to buy the chocolate, not bother with my pension scheme, or request new towels. But some entrenched customer and supplier behaviours in a travel setting need unpicking a bit before we can design a “nudge”:

  • Why would I leave off my seatbelt in a taxi on holiday but not dream of doing so at home? It’s not just about more relaxed local laws.
  • Why do I think it’s ok to go skiing after a boozy lunch, yet I would never mix adventure sports and alcohol back home?
  • Why does that minibus driver continue to answer his mobile phone during the airport transfer, despite all the training he’s had?

The factors influencing our behaviours are highly complex and individualised. They include our own predispositions, values, social connections and mood, as well as the resources available to us and what others around us are doing at that moment. If we are to influence someone’s behaviour, our approach must be more sophisticated.

Unpacking this gives us the opportunity to think (and behave) differently in relation to how we understand risk and how we attempt to mitigate or reduce it. It isn’t easily done in our RAG-rated matrix.

Applying a behavioural “diagnosis” in travel scenarios has the potential to offer a new insight into what drives individual behaviours and why they are so hard to shift. Using lessons from psychology about how we make decisions and the type of tendencies and shortcuts each of us makes every single day, could help free up our risk management thinking and help keep the travelling public safe.

For more information about using behavioural science to change travellers’ decision-making, and keep holidaymakers safer, contact Katherine.Atkinson@safertourism.org.uk.

Published on 05/04/23

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